What can we learn from research on groups of learners, methods of teaching and curriculum planning useful for learners and society?
The expert committee chaired by Prof. Abraham Arcavi of the Weizmann Institute of Science was established in response to a request by the Ministry of Education, with the aim of answering the question of what we can learn from research on groups of learners, teaching methods and curriculum planning that would benefit learners and society. The committee started its work in April 2012; the document summarizing its work was published in July 2014.
The Israeli education system serves a population characterized by great heterogeneity – Jews, Arabs, secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox, and native-born children studying alongside children of immigrants and children of foreign workers. The system also serves children with special needs who are mainstreamed and naturally, children from different familial, cultural, social and socio-economic backgrounds. During recent decades, the number of options available to students for choosing from a range of subject areas has multiplied and this process also contributes to the variation in children's areas of interest. All this is taking place against a background of international standardized tests and other measures which indicate large gaps in the achievements of students in Israel.
In addressing the needs of such a wide range of students, the Israeli education system has various tools at its disposal including many subject areas offered for study, "ability groupings" (children of similar proficiency levels learning at the same pace), project-driven learning, and special, dedicated classes and schools. Another solution is inherent in the major reforms made to the education system in recent years – "New Horizon" and "Courage to Change" – which promote an educational approach that focuses on individual teaching hours and individual mentoring.
Ministry of Education officials strive to provide teachers with the conditions they require in order to be able to best respond to students' diverse needs. Toward this end, the Ministry of Education is interested in acquiring knowledge about peer influence (that is, the impact of some students' presence in, or absence from, the classroom), pedagogies found to be appropriate for advancing different students within groups of different types, and effective professional development for teachers working in heterogeneous environments.
On the one hand, the students coming through the education system's gates are individuals independently looking ahead toward their future and on the other, they are part of an entirety – the class, the school, the community and society. They are tomorrow's citizens, each one possessing individual, cultural and social capital that can be part of the shared classroom, communal and social capital. Consequently, when we think about an optimal solution to the diversity in the education system, it is important to clarify the implications that emerge from the research regarding the presence or absence of certain students from the classroom. How will separation and division, as opposed to studying together in a heterogeneous environment, affect the character of a future society and the lives of the students when they become adult citizens? What are the emotional implications involved in dividing students into groups of learners? What do teachers need so that they can teach heterogeneous populations?
The committee, comprised of researchers from a wide range of fields including science and technology instruction, psychology, the sociology and philosophy of education and educational anthropology deliberated these questions, basing their discussions on existing research, commissioned scientific literature reviews and the testimony of professionals and practitioners. The committee's findings have been made available to the public and are at the disposal of Ministry of Education officials and decision makers who, in the course of their daily work, grapple with issues of heterogeneity.
The committee’s activities were coordinated by Dr. Naomi Mandel-Levy.